40 Days of Yoga: Day 13

Day 13, and I’m dealing with an injury. Somewhere along the way, I pulled my hamstring, and I have been reluctant to accept it. I really wanted to find out where the hang up was to being at peace with what is (injured), so I’ve been doing a bit of investigating. Here is what I found:

I pride myself on being quite flexible. (Hang up #1 – pride) For a long time I’ve felt as though I do not possess the strength I think should or wish I did, and the physicality of yoga depends on a balance of strength and flexibility. So to make up for my perceived lack of strength, I been favoring my flexibility. It’s a crutch that I’ve been relying on for comfort in my practice.

I also feel as though I need a really intense stretch in order to feel like I’ve had a great practice. (Hang up #2 – the expectation that I need to do anything other than show up in order to benefit from yoga) This feeling is linked with the first recognition of favoring my flexibility. I get some sense of accomplishment because I stretched further or more easily than I did last time, and in some ways, I’ve been measuring success in my practice by this. (Hang up #3 – that you can “succeed” in yoga)

Now these aren’t absolutes. I often “measure my success” by how much stronger I’ve gotten (see Hang up #3), and some of my truest moments of gratitude for myself in my practice have been when I recognized that the continued practice is helping me strengthen what I felt was lacking – strength. Nevertheless, these feelings of pride and expectations exist, and they have, I realize now, been holding me back.

I’m reminded of something I learned from an Iyengar teacher in New York. She said, “Wherever your body doesn’t want to go or whatever it doesn’t want to do is probably what it needs to be doing in the pose.” I thought that was poignant. It was also probably the first time I recognized how easy it is to rely on the stronger (or more flexible) parts of your body in the pose instead of getting into what’s more difficult and likely more beneficial. Of course there are limits to that statement, especially in the case of injury. But more on that in a minute.

As I was going through all of these stories in my mind during practice, feeling reluctant to accept the truth of my pulled hamstring, I was still pushing it. I thought I was backing off, but I realized I was still testing it to see if it really was injured, or maybe it was just a little injured, and I could fold a little further than it wanted me to. Then it hit me – I was making the most immature choice I had ever made in my practice. Pete will say in class, “Recognize that if ever your body needs it, you may come into child’s pose. I tell my students that those who take child’s pose when they need to are the most advanced practitioners in the room.” And there I was refusing to take child’s pose because I was didn’t want to accept that I had lost thing thing I relied on most.

I never felt like I did my practice to impress anyone. I never felt like I did my practice to impress myself. But why would I be pushing through pain if I didn’t feel I had something to prove? It was a wake up call. I would never heal from this injury if I didn’t first accept it and second honor it. I had control over whether or not and when this injury would recover. And it certainly wasn’t going to recover as long as I kept pushing the limits.

So I took child’s pose. And I thought about it. I even had a little dialogue with my hamstring. “Hey there. How you doing?” “I’m in a little pain.” “I hear ya. I’m sorry I’ve been ignoring you.” “I forgive you. We can get through this together. All you have to do is get on board.”

And this is how I came into acceptance. It felt like the most mature choice I had ever made in my practice.

Now, instead of lamenting what I cannot do, I’m focusing on what I can do. The rest of my body can be strong and flexible as it needs to be. The rest of my body can practice to its greatest ability, while at the same I send loving, compassionate energy to the part of my body that needs repair. In many ways it feels like I’m doing these poses for the first time. I have to constantly be attentive to how my hamstring is affected by the pose and my breath, making fine changes in my body and my breath so as to not activate the injury and still breath into the stretch of the muscles that surround it.

I no longer feel as though I’m practicing for my own ego or to show off how much “better” I’ve gotten over time. (Hang up #4 – that there’s one perfect way to do yoga) It’s called practice, not performance. And it’s just for me, or more specifically, for the divine that lives within me.